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Immunol Rev. 2012 Jan;245(1):227-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2011.01076.x.

Molecular mimicry as an inducing trigger for CNS autoimmune demyelinating disease.

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Department of Microbiology-Immunology and Interdepartmental Immunobiology Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that affects about 0.1% of the worldwide population. This deleterious disease is marked by infiltration of myelin-specific T cells that attack the protective myelin sheath that surrounds CNS nerve axons. Upon demyelination, saltatory nerve conduction is disrupted, and patients experience neurologic deficiencies. The exact cause for MS remains unknown, although most evidence supports the hypothesis that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to disease development. Epidemiologic evidence supports a role for environmental pathogens, such as viruses, as potentially key contributors to MS induction. Pathogens can induce autoimmunity via several well-studied mechanisms with the most postulated being molecular mimicry. Molecular mimicry occurs when T cells specific for peptide epitopes derived from pathogens cross-react with self-epitopes, leading to autoimmune tissue destruction. In this review, we discuss an in vivo virus-induced mouse model of MS developed in our laboratory, which has contributed greatly to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying molecular mimicry-induced CNS autoimmunity.

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